The precepts help us to connect to the wisdom that is unknowable, boundless and vast. We align ourselves with the wisdom that can’t be spoken of, that can’t be seen with the senses. Practicing the precepts helps to connect that wisdom with everything we see and experience through our senses. The precepts continue to be essential throughout the whole of one’s life regardless of how accomplished one might be in the Way, or how deep one’s wisdom. Padmasambhava, the great Indian master said, “Although my view is higher than the sky, my attention to actions and their effects is finer than flour.” In other words, as his wisdom into the emptiness of all things became more and more clear, his attention to details, to his words, thoughts, and deeds became more and more meticulous.
An old master said, “The relative functions inexorably within absolute truth.” A thorough realization of the empty nature of all phenomenon has never led anyone to think that positive actions don’t bring happiness or that negative actions don’t bring suffering. Deep insight has never brought anyone to think that living in accord with the precepts is no longer necessary. On the contrary, as we see more and more clearly how powerful our influence is, the precepts actually become more and more important. We see how easily things can turn in a moment. Lives can change. One action, one word, has the power to give life or to take it away. And so in all aspects of our training we are to realize this vast, boundless self-nature that is the nature of all things; to see into the empty nature of cause and effect; and to faithfully embody this⎯in every moment.
Each morning we chant the Verse of the Kesa: “Vast is the robe of liberation, a formless field of benefaction. I wear the Tatagatha’s teachings, saving all sentient beings.” The “robe of liberation” is the o-kesa, the monastic’s robe, or the rakusu, received with the precepts and worn by both monastic and lay practitioners. That robe is the Tatagatha’s teachings, the Buddha’s teachings. We should all strive to wear the Buddha’s teachings. But this is not like wearing an outfit that you put on and take off depending on the circumstance or season or fashion. It’s a timeless and formless robe, more like the way you wear your skin. It’s more like your blood and bones, and the way you wear those, the way you wear your heart and lungs, and the breath within you. It is the robe of liberation that supports us and allows us to stand upright, to look straight ahead, to feel the ground under our feet and to leap forward. And though this robe is formless,⎯unborn and undying⎯just like your blood, skin and bones, it needs to be taken care of. This is what practice is about, to profoundly care for and take care of this very life.
How do we live this way? This is the great matter of the buddhadharma. The Verse of the Kesa tells us to make our life about being in the world in the most natural, and ultimately effortless and radical way; that is, to alleviate all the suffering. In order to do that, we must cease from evil, practice good, and actualize good for others. We need to be clear about what needs to be done and what does not need to be done. We need to not indulge our confusion, which means we have to recognize our confusion and see it as confusion. We also need to not indulge our small-minded views, which means we have to recognize the views which are small-minded, or self-centered, and not indulge them. We have to be able to recognize our greediness and our anger. If we don’t recognize these things, if we don’t see them clearly, then we will indulge them.